A call to action
ben.jian at arrayedfiberoptics.com
Wed Aug 1 01:07:51 PDT 2012
Dear SNF lab members,
I have been an industrial user of the lab for about ten years.At the
beginning I was a regular user.Now with the dwindling financial
resources at my disposal, I use the lab once in a while.As head of a
small startup company, every dollar has to count.I feel compelled to
write this letter to the entire community.I am writing to you because we
face a major crisis.
Am I the only one who is outraged by the recent 30.2% rate increase in
the middle of a recession?To top it off,this was followed shortly by the
announcement of two new staff hires.A true budget-balancing measure
would include a serious round of layoffs and other cost-cutting
measures.Instead, we are witnessing the reverse - robust hiring.At
SNF,it is easy to hire people, but nearly impossible to let go.This
staff addition paves the way for the next round of major rate
increase.Thus the vicious cycle continues.Unless we SNF users take
action and stop this, the vicious cycle of rate increases will never end.
10.1% annual SNF rate increase over eight years
In December 2004, the fully capped rate was $3312 (without overhead) for
industrial users.In December 2012,it will become $6000.In eight years,
user fee has seen an 81.1% increase!That is a rate of 10.1% per year
growth over eight years.With overhead, the monthly capped rate will be a
staggering $9420 in December.That is mind bogging incompetence!The user
fee has been treated as an ATM machine.The SNF is in serious jeopardy of
becoming irrelevant with the latest round of irresponsible rate increase.
The people in charge of nominating SNF management have given us one bad
administration after another.The Nishi/Rissman administration was the
one who gave us the 40.6% rate increase in 2005.Just to show how
arrogant and how much they took users for granted, the big fee increase
was actually made retroactive by one month!Not to mention that in 2004,
there was no hour limit in lab usage.Since then, it has been 160 hours.
I don't know the current operations director of SNF at all. However,
based on the recent actions of announcing a 30% fee increase followed
immediately by the hiring of not one but two new staff members, it shows
the sheer insensitivity and cluelessness of the management style.
The SNF administrations have been characterized by cronyism and gross
mismanagement.This is a serious waste of taxpayer's dollar.
Ideas for reform
The SNF should be run like a business, because it serves a sizeable
community of small businesses with limited research budgets.We are given
significant supporting funds from the NSF.I want to see significant cost
saving compared to similar university labs.The SNF must be run like a
lean and mean organization.
The SNF director preferably should come from inside SNF and should have
regular job responsibilities in addition to managing people.There are
some SNF staff members who can do an excellent job of running the lab,
yet they have been passed up time and again in favor of expensive people
managers from outside research labs, first HP Labs, now SRI Labs.They
gave us 40% in 2005 and 30% rate increase in 2012, respectively.
The sizeable number of PhD-level staff members can be a poor use of
precious resources; SNF is not a place where there is a continuing
demand for such high level skills.If there is a need for high level
skill, hiring should be on a temporary or part-time basis.With the
talent that the Bay area is known for, it would be really easy to get
top talent at a fraction of the cost of a full time staff.
The SNF could learn a few lessons from the Microfab at Berkeley.Instead
of staff members, they use students and audio/visual media to train new
users.This is a lab where things get done, all while keeping user fees
Before SNF goes down the tubes, maybe there is something we can do.Maybe
we can rise up and demand change.Dear lab members:We need to take
action.We deserve better.
Take back SNF before the latest round of increase ruins SNF for
good.Rebel against this incompetent SNF administration.Take this
opportunity to bring real change to SNF that's long overdue.Overhaul SNF
1.We demand the out of touch SNF operations director's immediate
2.We the industrial users must have power in the SNF decision making,
instead of "taxation without representation". I for one could do a much
better job of managing SNF's finance if given the chance.We need to form
a new decision making committee for SNF consisting of three equal voting
blocks of SNF staff, faculty and industrial members.All financial
decisions must be approved by this committee and SNF management must be
accountable to this committee.
3.We need to "Starve the beast".Abolish the 30.2% rate increase.There
should be no rate increase for three years, then 3% each year as
previously agreed.SNF must learn to live within its means.Examine every
corner for cost saving. Control cost through internal attrition if not
layoff.SNF needs to become every ounce efficient, each person wearing
I am wary of the repercussions of this letter.Last time in 2004 after
objecting to the big rate increase as a whistle blower, I was singled
out by Nishi/Rissman for retribution.Rissman made a lot of rules just
for me with the threat of permanently banning me from SNF.This time I
want to make clear that if SNF tries to do the same,I will let the
entire SNF community know.
If there is no significant improvement, I for one will lobby NSF to move
its funding elsewhere such as Berkeley.The double digit rate increase
over eight years speaks for itself about the gross incompetence of the
SNF management.I will make a strong case to NSF that SNF through its
total mismanagement has stifled the growth of small businesses, which
are the job growth engine of this economy. I will make sure Berkeley
gets a copy of my letter to bolster their case of why Berkeley should
get the NSF funding instead.
Ben Jian, PhD
Arrayed Fiberoptics Corporation
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